“I take a deep breath, I open my eyes.”
An Aqua book report by Skydar
Recently, I read a couple books back to back and felt like they’d be good to share with folks who read this blog. So much of what Aqua represents and stands behind is the ‘get outside’ mentality, whether it is surfing or hiking or just sitting in the sandy dunes and thinking. It is of utmost importance that we, as humans, return to nature and take a look around. If you enjoy reading, maybe these would make good options - or gifts for your friends.
I started with the young adult novel My Side Of The Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. Originally published in 1959, it tells the story of Sam Gribley - a 12 year old boy who lives in New York City, but longs to live on the abandoned family property in the Catskill Mountains. Early in the story, Sam announces to his father that he is leaving and plans to live in the woods surrounding the property - and his Dad obliges, assuming he’ll give up and be back in a month. (Not sure my Dad would have been cool with me doing this in 7th grade, but then again, this was 1959…)
Sam quickly learns that living with no shelter and a small amount of food won’t suffice, and immediately sets to fix his situation to more stability. With thoughtful contemplations and smart solutions, he sets about living a solitary life in the Catskills. And, being a young adult book, there are daring stories of raising a pet falcon and befriending a weasel, a raccoon and more.
Sam ends up thriving in his new environment, and relishes every moment of his time - even in the coldest of seasons. I thoroughly enjoyed when Sam finished his daily chores, and noticed the beauty of his surroundings in detail. I loved it when he is awoken from a sleep with a “Pop, Pip” noise, and he was confused of its source. He looked in the grass and noticed an earthworm coming out of a hole.
“Nearby another one arose and there was a ‘pop.’ Little bubbles of air snapped as these voiceless animals of the earth came to the surface. That got me to smiling. I was glad to know this about earthworms. I don’t know why, but this seemed like one of the nicest things I had learned in the woods - that earthworms, lowly, confined to the darkness of the earth, could make just a little stir in the world.”
While it’s kind of a clunky (but still fun) book to read as an adult, this is one of those that I wish I would have read as a 10-12 year old. A good one to inspire a kid to get outdoors, and take part in the nature around them. Sam’s character matures in such an inspiring way, yet still holds his idealism and dedication true.
The second book I read would have been absolute torture to read in high school - or even in college. In fact, the author wraps up the book’s afterword with “Inexplicably, this difficult book has often strayed into boarding-school and high-school curricula as well as required college courses… And consequently a generation of youth has grown up cursing my name…”
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard was a total challenge for me as an adult. However, I accepted the challenge as I was WILLING to be patient with her writing as the book wasn’t forced upon me. Originally published in my birth year (1974), Dillard’s book won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction when she was only 29.
In its essence, it is a collection of narratives where Dillard explores her own backyard - from changes in season to studying a frog for 15 pages. Even if you don’t have a clue what she is talking about in her lengthy and beautiful descriptions (which will be the case), it is a pleasure to read of her excitement for nature which largely goes unnoticed.
As one reviewer put it, “One of the most pleasing traits of the book is the graceful harmony between scrutiny of real phenomena and the reflections to which that gives rise.” It is not the frog itself that is the point, but what the frog draws the author/reader to feel. I have heavily dog-eared the pages of my book with quotes that I liked. Will leave this one for you here, where Dillard describes how we (as adults) tend to overlook nature and discovery:
“When we lose our innocence - when we start feeling the weight of the atmosphere and learn that there’s death in the pot - we take leave of our senses. Only children keep their eyes open. The only thing they have got is sense; they have highly developed “input systems,” admitting all data indiscriminately. If you really want to find arrowheads, you must walk with a child - a child will pick up everything. All my adult life I have wished to see the cemented case of a caddisfly larva. It took Sally Moore, the young daughter of friends, to find one on the pebbled bottom of a shallow stream on whose bank we sat side by side. “What’s this?” she asked. That, I wanted to say as I recognized the prize she held, is a memento mori for people who read too much.”
Tinker Creek should be read* - the asterisk to suggest that you are both an adult and actually desiring to read this book. It takes a while to get into its rhythm, but once you do - you may find as many amazing moments as does the author. Or you may join the generation who curses her name!